Scottish clubs, SPFL and Sky Sports locked in fixture talks as slots identified for potential rescheduling
Scotland’s top-flight football clubs are locked in discussions with the Scottish Professional Football League and Sky Sports over whether to bring forward the winter shutdown and postpone three rounds of festive fixtures in the wake of closed-door restrictions.
New rules will kick in on Boxing Day and impact the festive football fixtures in Scotland, which include top-flight derbies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee in the first few days of 2022.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that public events would be limited to up to 200 indoors and 500 outdoors, admitting that would make football matches "effectively spectator-free".
The Premiership is due to shut down for three weeks from January 3 with top-flight teams returning to action in the Scottish Cup in the fourth weekend of the year.
A break would have an impact on league broadcaster Sky Sports, which is due to screen four cinch Premiership matches before the break, including Rangers' trip to Celtic Park on January 2. But with half of the season remaining to showcase their contracted number of fixtures, clubs have described the ongoing chats as a courtesy, stating there is no legal impediment.
All 12 top-flight clubs convened on Tuesday afternoon after Ms Sturgeon’s announcement and there is broad agreement that football should pause during the period of restrictions.
The complexities of rescheduling three full rounds of fixtures pose problems, but The Scotsman understands that a free midweek at the start of February has been identified as one slot, while one of the options on the table is to delay the Premiership’s split by a week and use a weekend in April that had been designated as free for most clubs. Pushing the end of the season back by a week has also been discussed. At present, it is due to finish on May 22 with the final promotion/relegation play-off match.
Celtic and Hibs, who are both staring at the prospect of hosting a derby with no fans and severe revenue losses, both issued statements calling for the winter break to be brought forward. Aberdeen, who have two festive home matches against Dundee and Rangers, believe they could lose up to £500,000 in revenue.
"In light of the announcement regarding supporters attending matches, Celtic can confirm that it has today requested that the SPFL bring forward the scheduled winter break and reschedule the fixtures affected by the regulations announced,” a statement from the club read.
"The game owes it to supporters to explore all opportunities to maximise the prospect of all supporters being able to attend matches and support the game they love."
A memo from Hibs also said: “Following the Scottish Government’s announcement earlier today, Hibernian FC has requested that the SPFL bring forward the scheduled winter break and reschedule the affected fixtures.
"Hibernian FC completely understands that this is an incredibly difficult situation due to on-going pandemic, and with that in mind health and safety should be at the forefront of every decision, which is why the Club has made this proposal to the SPFL.
“Alongside this, every effort should be made to allow supporters to watch their team and the game they love. The Club also believes that this will protect the integrity of the competition and would save clubs from the potential loss of substantial revenue.”
The Joint Response Group confirmed that urgent discussions have been taking place. “The JRG will be holding a series of consultations about the impact of the new restrictions over the next 24 hours,” it said.
Wednesday night’s three Premiership matches are to go ahead with spectators, although St Mirren – besieged by a number of Covid cases – put in a request to the SPFL to postpone their match with Celtic at the SMISA Stadium. However, it was rejected and their match, as well as Hibs v Aberdeen at Easter Road and St Johnstone v Ross County at McDiarmid Park, could well be the last top-flight action of 2021.